Teacher Talk: Evaluating a Young Child’s Writing Skills

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Q. My fourth-grader’s writing is very sloppy, and she misspells a lot of words. On top of this, her sentences are only three or four words long. If I ask her to write a sentence, she finds it very difficult to put words together. Is she displaying age-level behavior with her writing skills?
– Anxious

A. Your daughter’s writing skills should be judged on the basis of what is expected of students at the end of third grade. Her handwriting at that time would be considered legible if she has correct spacing between letters in a word and words in a sentence.

As far as spelling goes, by the end of third grade, most schools would expect students to at least spell one-syllable words correctly. She also should be able to correctly spell the words that were on last year’s spelling tests.

Your daughter should be able to capitalize the first word in a sentence and use appropriate end punctuation of simple sentences. She should be able to vary the length of her sentences.

Parents often evaluate the skill level of their children by using adult standards. Talk to your child’s teacher to find out if your child’s writing meets the school’s expectations for her grade level. You also will find it helpful to look at the writing of other students in the class. If your daughter’s work is not up to grade level, this is the time to discuss how it can be improved.

Parents who are concerned about their young children’s writing skills in preschool through grade three can get a good idea of how they are doing by going online to www.readingrockets.org/looking_at_writing and seeing writing samples of other children at these levels. There are also comments about what each child needs to learn to do next.

Q. I’ve heard about Response to Intervention, but I really don’t understand exactly what it is and how it will affect my child. Please explain.
– In the Dark

A. Response to Intervention is a new program designed specifically to provide quick early help to students who are having difficulty learning. RTI steps in before students are failing, with one of the aims being to prevent unnecessary assignment of students to special education.

RTI integrates assessment and intervention with a three-tiered prevention program to ensure that all students achieve and that behavior problems are reduced. How your child is affected by RTI depends on how rapidly his or her school is moving to implement it fully.

In a school using RTI, a screening program is used with every student. Based on the results of the screenings, RTI provides support at the intensity level each student needs to achieve academic success. Students are placed in one of three tiers. As the year progresses, tiers of intervention can change.

Tier 1: Most students will be in this tier, which is the grade-level classroom. Help is given in the form of research-based interventions to the class or individuals based on frequent assessment of the progress the group and individuals are making in meeting grade-level norms.

Tier 2: Students placed in this tier will receive classroom instruction plus 30- to 60-minute rounds of supplementary instruction in small groups (usually two to four students) three to four times a week for nine to 12 weeks. The supplementary instruction is provided by trained personnel. These students are frequently monitored to see if they no longer need Tier 2 services or may require Tier 3 services.

Tier 3: These students need more intense and more frequent interventions. They are having significant learning difficulties and have not been helped by Tier 2 interventions. Special-education instruction is provided to these students individually or in small groups by special-education teachers. They may be pulled out of the classroom or be in a special class.

Students who need more support than provided in the tier system will be further tested to identify their specific learning disability needs. For more information on RTI, visit www.rti4success.org.

Q. Our second-grader has been in school for almost a month now, and he has behavior problems. He is unable to stay in his seat. If he happens to be in his seat, he is always talking. The teacher says he never stops. I am running out of ideas on how to discipline him when he gets home at night.
– Tired

A. You can discipline him when he gets home, but it is too late to do much good. Do go to his school and observe his behavior, and see if you have any suggestions for the teacher.

This teacher needs to become proactive. The school’s behavior specialist or a mentor should observe your son in class, and then a behavior intervention plan can be developed to improve his behavior. If this doesn’t work after a few weeks, he may need to be tested to see if there is some underlying reason for his behavior.